Actors solidified ‘Succession’ as Emmy front-runner, but craftspeople could carry ‘Ozark’ to Best Drama Series win

Looking only at the acting nominations, “Succession” is the clear front-runner for Best Drama Series. Other than the 10 bids by “Game of Thrones” last year, the nine acting nominations for the second season of “Succession” represent the most for a drama since the 12 for “The West Wing” in 2002. But it is not only actors who vote on Best Drama Series the way that it is only actors who vote on the acting categories. The actors’ branch represents only 10 to 15 percent of the Television Academy and has proved not to be representative. This manifested in “Better Call Saul,” “The Mandalorian” and “Stranger Things” making the Best Drama Series cut over shows that received more acting noms, like “Big Little Lies,” “The Morning Show” and “This is Us.”

Both “Game of Thrones” and “The West Wing” won Best Drama Series for the relevant seasons, but they had 32 and 22 nominations overall, representing broader support than “Succession” achieved with its haul of 18 nominations. “Ozark” actually ties with 18, but a greater spread because it has only a third as many acting nominations as “Succession.”

The nomination breakdown between “Ozark” and “Succession” is reminiscent of the Best Limited Series race last year between “Chernobyl” and “When They See Us,” which had similar nomination totals. Like “Ozark,” “Chernobyl” had three acting nominations; like “Succession,” exactly half of the “When They See Us” nominations were for acting. “When They See Us” was the aggregate prediction to win over “Chernobyl” in the Expert, Editor and User brackets on Gold Derby. Deficits of support for “When They See Us” below the line were reconciled by the outpouring of support by that single branch. For example, “When They See Us” would have been the first Best Limited Series winner in 10 years without a Best Movie/Limited Editing nomination.

“Chernobyl” meanwhile had such a surplus of support among the editors’ branch that they nominated it twice, then it won despite being the only nominated program at risk of vote-splitting. “Chernobyl” also received nominations like Best Movie/Limited Hairstyling that have not correlated historically with Best Limited Series, but further suggested a surplus of support, given its subdued work in the field. Perhaps the hairstylists would have nominated it just as many times as the actors’ branch nominated “When They See Us” if they had as many categories and slots. “When They See Us” remained the front-runner even after “Chernobyl” won seven Creative Arts Emmys, opposite one for “When They See Us.”

Six of the last seven Best Drama Series winners have had a corresponding nomination for Best Cinematography. Both “Ozark” and “Succession” were snubbed for Best One-Hour Cinematography last year; “Succession” is missing from the category again this year, but “Ozark” is nominated twice. Only one of the last nine Best Drama Series winners was snubbed for Best One-Hour Sound Mixing; “Ozark” is nominated there and “Succession” is not, even with the category having a sixth nominee for the first time since 2007.

Concerning albeit not correlative is that “Succession” was snubbed again in Best Main Title Design. “Succession” has one of the most iconic title sequences on television, for which it won Best Main Title Theme Music last year. The academy’s motion and title design branch missed nominating it then, but they had the opportunity to correct that mistake the way that the actors’ branch did. “Succession” is instead snubbed again for Best Main Title Design, this time for “Westworld” on its third nomination in the category and “Watchmen,” which does not even have an opening credits sequence, but boasts a leading 26 nominations overall.

Although “Ozark” shrewdly avoided vote-splitting in Best Drama Writing for each of its first two seasons by submitting only one episode for consideration each time, the writers snubbed it. The writers also snubbed both seasons at the Writers Guild Awards in the Best Drama Series Writing race in which each series is limited to a single submission for its body of work from the year. Despite its past failures, “Ozark” submitted three episodes from its third season for Best Drama Writing at the Emmys — and all three were nominated. This is a huge increase in support from that key branch; the last Best Drama Series winner without a Best Drama Writing nomination was “24” in 2006, although even it had won the award for a previous season. “Ozark” is the ninth drama in Emmy history to be triple-nominated for Best Drama Writing, after “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos,” “NYPD Blue,” “Northern Exposure,” “L.A. Law,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Lou Grant.” Only “St. Elsewhere” from this group never won Best Drama Series.

Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell won an Emmy for “Succession” last year before being nominated at the inaugural Society of Composers & Lyricists Awards, so his nomination for Best Series Music was expected. Less so was the nomination for “Ozark” co-composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, representing the first nomination for their work on the show from any organization. Another sudden breakthrough for “Ozark” came in Best Contemporary Makeup after its first two seasons were shut out by the Emmys’ makeup branch and the Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Guild Awards. The nomination for such subdued work stands out like the Best Movie/Limited Hairstyling nomination did for “Chernobyl” last year — or the Best Series Makeup recognition for the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.”

The gains that “Succession” made with the acting branch this year are undeniably impressive, but not necessarily more so than those that “Ozark” made with others. The outcomes of head-to-head Creative Arts races like Best Drama Casting and Best Drama Editing should be telling about how much passion there is for these heavyweights.

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